- At Notre-Dame de l’Osier (1834-1846)
- Superior of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (1846-1847)
- Superior at Nancy (1847-1851)
- Superior of Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs in Talence (1851-1853)
- Superior at Le Calvaire at Marseilles (1853-1855)
- Founder of the Institute of Young Blind People and of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate (1857)
- Superior of Notre-Dame de la Garde (1861-1864)
Born in Marseilles, November 1, 1808
Taking of the habit at St. Just, June 7, 1829
Oblation at Marseilles, June 7, 1830 (no. 44).
Ordination to the priesthood at Fribourg, December 17, 1831 at Notre-Dame de l’Osier from 1834 to 1846
Dispensation from his vows, October 30, 1865
Died at Cauterets (Hautes-Pyrénées), August 23, 1888.
Louis Toussaint Dassy was born in Marseilles, November 1, 1808, the son of E. Rosalie Carterot and of Joseph Dassy, stone carver and marble merchant. He was the eighth of ten children: four boys and six girls, three of whom became religious nuns. He was baptized November 3, and studied at the Cauvière. He made his First Holy Communion on April 20, 1820 in St. Victor’s church a few weeks after the great mission preached in Marseilles by the Missionaries of Provence who preached at St. Victor and by the Missionaries of France. While still a teenager, Louis Toussaint became a member of Mr. Allemand’s youth group.
October 12, 1828 he entered the major seminary which, for one year already, had been under the direction of the Oblates. At the end of the school year, he decided to join the Congregation. He took the habit at St. Just, June 7, 1829 and made his oblation in Marseilles, June 7, 1830, a few weeks before the outbreak of the July Revolution. At the beginning of September, he left for Billens where the Founder, resting in Switzerland, had just bought a piece of property and summoned the novices and scholastics to come there. It is there that Louis Toussaint studied theology from 1830-1832, while acting as treasurer for the community. December 17, 1831, he was ordained to the priesthood in the chapel of the Ursulines in Fribourg by Bishop Tobie Yenni, Bishop of Lausanne and Geneva. The scholastic brothers returned to France at the beginning of 1833. A few of the priests, of whom Father Dassy was one, stayed behind and began to preach parish missions in that part of the Switzerland and in the area of Gex.
At Notre-Dame de l’Osier (1834-1846)
At the beginning of 1834, l’Abbé J.A. Dupuy, an ex-Oblate, parish priest of Notre-Dame de l’Osier for two years already and owner of the convent, asked the Founder to send him some help. The Founder sent him Father Dassy who had returned from Switzerland a few months earlier in poor health. During the summer, Fathers Ambroise Vincens and Bruno Eugène Guigues arrived, Father Guigues in the role of superior. They were there upon the invitation of l’Abbé Dupuy without previously having obtained permission from Bishop Philibert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble and without being known as Oblates. Bishop de Mazenod had to explain the situation to the bishop who gladly accepted the Oblates as missionaries in his diocese and he added: “Mr. Dupuy’s lack of prudence has turned out to be my good fortune… Truly, Your Excellency, far from bearing a grudge to Mr. Dupuy about this matter, I am tempted to shout: felix culpa! Yes, I will adopt your beloved children.”
For twelve years, Father Dassy was a member of the community at l’Osier, an important Oblate house in France and the novitiate from 1841 to 1902. He soon began to display the wide range of his talents: ministering to the pilgrims during the summer, preaching parish missions, close collaboration with the superior in the work of repairing the convent and the construction of a lodging house for the pilgrims, the writing of some works on history and archaeology, etc. Intelligent, learned, enterprising, he succeeded in everything he undertook and completed his tasks with dispatch. After Father Guigues left for Canada in 1844, it was Father Vincens who became superior. He was slow and often distracted. In a June 2, 1845 letter to the Founder, Father Dassy gave a good description of Father Vincens personality and of his own. “You also know about my too great activity or inclination to haste, if you wish. And here you have it that more and more I find him dilatory and very slow to take decisive action. And once he is committed to a course of action, as slow to act as he was slow to finish what he felt obliged to begin. He is the head of the community. I am often compelled to act as his arm for outside activities. He forgives me for playing this role; he even urges me on to it, unless, as rarely happens, he finds himself in a bad mood, hence what I do, I am doing too much to make up for his slowness. He takes me up short by reminding me curtly of something one of his superiors, he tells me, once told him: “That if they let me do a little too much, I will end up being his master and lording it over him.” In all humility, I admit that the superior who made this statement [Bishop de Mazenod] knew me well and I take myself to task for not working hard enough to limit my activism.” He ends his letter by saying: “I believe that no greater understanding could exist than that which reigns between him and I. I tell him everything I have to say. On no account does he spares my sensibilities. There is something to sanctify both of us here. Besides, he is so good hearted, so patient…”
Superior of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (1846-1847)
Taking cognizance of Father Dassy’s performance at l’Osier, the Founder understood that this priest had the talent to play centre stage, all the more so that he knew him to be dedicated to a regular life and to be devoted to the Congregation. Father Dassy began his role of founder at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, in the district of Lablachère in Ardèche. The situation had to do with a marian shrine which dated from the 17th century, quite neglected since the Revolution. Bishop Guibert, o.m.i., Bishop of Viviers as of1842 entrusted the responsibility of the shrine to the Oblates. Fathers Dassy and Jean Hermitte arrived there at the beginning of February 1846. Father Hermitte would end up staying there for the rest of his life. Father Dassy was only sent there to establish the place. They could not spare him for long from l’Osier.
The work there is more or less the same as at l’Osier: ministry to the pilgrims during the summer, especially from August 15 to September 8 and preaching missions the rest of the year. Everywhere he went, Father Dassy played the role of architect and contractor. In one year, he had work done on the bell tower and the choir of the church, then he had constructed a convent with eighty rooms. From the autumn of 1846 on, a small minor seminary was opened with a dozen children entrusted to the care of Father Dominique Pulicani. This minor seminary, like the minor seminary at Notre-Dame de Lumières would be closed down in 1847 because the novitiate at l’Osier was filled with novices at the time. These candidates were sent by Father Léonard Baveux who was making a vocation recruitment tour in the seminaries of France and Belgium.
Superior at Nancy (1847-1851)
The influx of novices at Nancy in 1847 (73 in number) required the opening of a second novitiate. For some time already, thought had been given to making a foundation in the North. Nancy was chosen. Bishop A. B. Manjaud was Bishop there and knew Bishop de Mazenod well. In July of 1847, Father Tempier travelled to Nancy and bought a large house with a garden situated on Montet street. At the beginning of October, Father Dassy received a letter from the Founder asking him to leave for Nancy as soon as possible where he was appointed superior with Father Santoni as master of novices.
At Nancy, work and worry were not lacking for the superior: Transforming the residence into a house for a religious community, care of a community which soon numbered some twenty individuals, preaching and, soon, perils associated with the February revolution of 1848. He immediately sent the novices back to their respective homes. They returned at the beginning of March and were not upset. The financial crisis that was raging throughout the whole of France at the time were also a concern for the superior who had to halt construction work and was at a loss as to how to pay the debts already incurred.
In Paris, there was an uprising during the month of June with some deaths, among whom was Bishop D. Affre. There was talk of deporting the leaders of the insurrection to the Marquesas Islands. In this connection, Father Dassy’s zeal appears clearly in a letter to the Founder dated June 30: “To accompany these poor wretches on a long-lasting journey, to establish a settlement with them in the Islands where they will be gathered in order to work to renew them through Christianity and to set up for the furtherance of Catholicism a new society which will be developed in these countries already too dominated by English Methodists. What a work worthy of you and perfectly in harmony with our vocation. Until this point in time, the newspapers have told us nothing about the negotiations already undertaken by other congregations with the competent authorities. This being what it is, Your Excellency, if you believe you should ask for this mission for his children, here are two of us, two able bodied volunteers, very willing, on fire to sacrifice ourselves to the point of martyrdom in order to fulfill such noble and such difficult endeavours. Just speak the word and we will be on our way, Father Mouchel and I. Most gladly we will offer ourselves for this task, especially myself, for good and all through a genuinely arduous life to atone for all the sins of my life. This is not a case of human fancy; I am being inspired by faith alone. That you do not doubt, Your Excellency. And God grant that, in spite of my unworthiness, although I cannot claim this favour by any legitimate right, I may have my request granted to me. I am writing in haste since mail for the Midi is about to leave. And it is on my knees that I sign this letter, confiding it to the special care of my trusty angel.”
Less occupied by the construction work and by the novices who are sent to l’Osier at the end of 1849, Father Dassy did a lot of preaching: 2 retreats in 1847, 7 retreats in 1848, 11 in 1849 and 16 in 1850, as well as the Lenten sermons at Apvre in 1849 and at Coutances in 1850. After his first retreat in December 1847, the Founder congratulated him on “being the first member of our Congregation to preach the word of God to the ice-bound peoples of those northern regions.”
It is Father Dassy as well we have to thank for the foundation at Notre-Dame de Sion. In 1850 and 1851, Fathers Soullier and Conrard resided there alone, trading each other off. An Oblate community would be established there only in 1853.
One of Father Dassy’s serious defects showed up at Nancy. He was too demanding and too strict. His subjects did not like him. The Founder took him to task about this. Father Dassy often admitted his faults, especially in a June 28, 1848 letter: “Yes, you are right to have misgivings about my strictness. Nevertheless, I am working without success to correct this wretched defect in me. There is harshness in my judgments, in my speech, in my demeanour, and I find fault with myself all the more for having been so trying, so demanding, when I myself am a man filled with wretchedness. My way of handling authority is naturally proud, too autocratic, and consequently hard to take. It is a rare thing that I find myself favourably inclined towards a newcomer and an even rarer thing for me to favour those that experience has given me the opportunity to get to know better. In spite of myself, this mistrust of people shows through in my words and in my actions. Also, few people continue to like me for any length of time, for how can one be loved by those for whom one is so trying? My demeanour is mild, that is true, but my interior is not so disposed to everyone, especially towards those with whom I must live because you will have noticed that I have a totally other demeanour when dealing with people from the outside who appreciate me and whom I like. In addition to that, I want too intensely what I want and I demand that it be attained by the shortest route possible. I do not know how to make concessions on certain points that need to be overlooked in order to more easily attain more important objectives…”
Superior of Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs in Talence (1851-1853)
During the summer of 1851, Father Vincens preached the priests’ retreat at Bordeaux and strongly recommended parish missions. Archbishop A. Donnet was present and he immediately wrote to Bishop de Mazenod to ask him to provide a mission team. As well, he promised to entrust to the Oblates the parish and the pilgrimage of Our Lady of the Seven Dolors in Talence. On October 5, the Founder wrote to Father Dassy. He gives him two days to inform Father Merlin of the situation at Nancy. Then, he was to leave immediately for Bordeaux with Father Depetro. The parish priest at Talence had not yet received his subsequent assignment. The priests were to take up residence at Pont-de-la-Noye were to begin preaching immediately. They soon received reinforcements in the person of Fathers Melchior de L’Hermitte, Léon Delpeuch, Bruno Séjalon and Brother François Picard.
In January of 1853, Abbé Carros was appointed parish priest of Langon and the Oblates took up residence in Talence. Father Dassy was appointed parish priest. He visited all the families and drew up plans for a new rectory. It was an auspicious beginning until the month of June when the priests at Talence wrote a letter to Bishop de Mazenod complaining about their superior. Archbishop Donnet, now promoted to Cardinal, stopped off at Marseilles. He also had some complaints to lodge against Father Dassy. Bishop de Mazenod immediately called him back to Marseilles. He appointed Father Merlin as superior at Talence.
This fall from favour was short-lived. Three tasks were immediately entrusted to him: superior at Le Calvaire, in January 1854, delegated as representative to Orleans in view of settling the details of a foundation at Notre-Dame de Cléry at the request of Bishop Dupanloup, the task of writing a monumental history of the Church and of the diocese of Marseilles.
Superior at Le Calvaire at Marseilles (1853-1855)
Upon his arrival in Marseilles, Father Dassy was installed as superior at Le Calvaire. He stepped into the shoes of Father Casimir Aubert, provincial of the Midi and Secretary General of the Congregation. The new superior noticed that the works of the community had taken a down turn and that few people attended the church. He attributed this state of affairs to two causes: the expansion of the Capuchins and the Jesuits and the scandalous initiative which was adopted to push back into the older quarters of the city “thousands of people of ill-repute.”
He worked at Le Calvaire up until 1859. He resuscitated works in the parish and attracted the faithful by celebrating with more solemnity a number of feasts. However, he remained superior for less than two years. A few months after his appointment, he begged the Founder to replace him. A man of the rule, strict with himself, but also for others, he sought in too stringent a fashion to foster regularity. He oversaw and directed the work of the priests and the brothers. His subjects complained of this, stood in opposition to him and made his situation untenable.
Founder of the Institute of Young Blind People and of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate (1857)
During his apostolate at Le Calvaire and his preaching at Marseilles, Father Dassy encountered a number of blind people. He stated that he had counted over 200 in the city, many of whom were children. Already in 1853, he wanted to set up an organization to address the needs of these poor wretches. On June 29, 1857, he laid out his plans before Bishop de Mazenod. He requested permission to take up residence in the Oblate community of Notre-Dame de la Garde and to carry out the apostolate to the young blind people which he wanted to establish at the foot of the hill. In a few years, the work flourished; a large institution was built and a religious congregation established. The bishop, who, initially, was opposed to the founding of a new religious congregation, finally gave his consent June 22, 1859.
Superior of Notre-Dame de la Garde (1861-1864)
Upon the death of Bishop de Mazenod, a strong reaction against the Oblates swept through the diocesan clergy since, in their view, the Oblates wielded too much power in the diocese. Bishop Cruice, Bishop de Mazenod’s successor lent his ear to those opposing the Oblates. He took away from them the direction of the major seminary and appointed a non-Oblate as administrator of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Father Fabre, a native of Marseilles himself, was very sensitive to the disaffection of the local clergy. He closed down the Oblate scholasticate at Montolivet and sent the scholastic brothers to Autun. Also, he moved the General Administration to Paris.
Among the Oblates who remained in Marseilles, only Father Dassy maintained cordial relations with Bishop Cruice. The bishop accepted him as successor to Father Bernard a superior of the chaplains’ association and the director of pilgrimages to Notre-Dame de la Garde. In virtue of this office, it was Father Dassy who would be the main organizer of the grand feast of the dedication of the new church in 1864. Following these celebrations, by popular demand, Father Bernard was reinstated as superior of Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Thanks to Father Dassy, the bishop retained the Oblates to work in the Youth Association of Mr. Allemand and in the chaplaincy of the Sisters of St. Charles. Also, by popular request, he continued to preach missions in the diocese.
Father Dassy’s biography tells us that at this stage in his life (1861-1864), “in the prime of his fifty-four years of age, Father Dassy wielded the greatest variety of responsibilities: guidance of his own community of priests and brothers administration of the shrine where he played an important role in the lay administrative councils established by Bishop de Mazenod and whose personnel had undergone a change, guidance of his budding organization of work with blind youth, administration of material affairs, educational training of teachers and students, religious formation of nuns, vocation recruitment to the sisterhood, spiritual formation of benefactresses or ladies who were patrons for these sisters. He used his contacts with the municipal and/or government authorities to get them involved in or respond to official agendas. A representative of his bishop or his Superior General, he conducted delicate negotiations. Nor did he forget that he was a member of academia, that he was the president of the academy, that he had to frame his discourse in a tone worthy of the assembly and of the priesthood he represented…”
Indeed, May 17, 1858, Father Dassy, well known through articles in journals and some works on the history of the Church and the religious monuments of Marseilles was elected to the academy of Marseilles. There he took his place beside his older brother, Joseph, a painter and curator of the city’s museum. In 1866, Abbé Dassy was appointed permanent secretary of this academy. In 1886, he received the cross of the Legion of Honour.
His work with the blind and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate absorbed his time more and more. At the end of 1864 when he left Notre-Dame de la Garde, he returned to Le Calvaire, but was not greatly involved in the life of the community. He travelled, bought property, acquired debts without the permission of his religious superiors. At the time, the Congregation had a lot of debts as a result of the acquisition and the work done on the houses in Paris and at Royaumont. It was at this point that Father Fabre, as he had done with Father Mille in Paris, asked Father Dassy to leave the Congregation which was not able to take responsibility for the debts these priests have contracted and continue to contract without consulting their superiors. November 14, 1865, Father Dassy asked for a dispensation from his vows. However, an agreement was reached and he was given two years to settle his affairs and give the Congregation the assurance that his works were entirely diocesan works. But, in addition to this, Father Fabre ‑ and on this point he was more demanding than the Founder ‑ wanted to see that every Oblate be an active member of a community. October 20, 1865, Father Dassy renewed his request for a dispensation from his vows. He stated that being faced with a choice between the Congregation “his mother” and his work with the blind, “his daughter,” he chose to consecrate the rest of his life to his daughter. In the November 6, 1865 report of the General Council, it is stated that as of October 30 Father Dassy accepted dispensation from his vows and was asking for an annual pension. Request for pension was refused. Subsequently, he maintained contact with Father Fabre and the Oblates.
In 1887-1888, already advanced in age, Abbé Dassy wore himself out overseeing the construction project of expansion of the Institute for the Blind. In August of 1888, he withdrew to Cauterets (Hautes-Pyrénées) for a period of rest. It was there that he died suddenly August 23, 1888. His solemn funeral rites were held in Marseilles on August 28. His remains were laid to rest in the chapel of the Institute for the Blind.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.